The many types of childhood trauma

Wounded_civilians_arrive_at_hospital_AleppoWelcome to our Fall 2013 blog series: Trauma and Kids…A Primer for Pastors, Church Staff and Parents. We begin today by reviewing the different types of trauma associated with development of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

As we launch into a series on trauma, a good place to start might be to define what exactly constitutes trauma? We all live in a world surrounded by potential dangers. Families living on the East Coast or the Gulf Coast live with a potential danger from hurricanes at this time of year. Kids in some neighborhoods in our country experience an increased risk of becoming a victim of gang violence. Little kids learn not to play with matches, or touch a hot stove, or ride their bikes into a busy street without looking. But danger can generally be managed.  People typically evacuate the beach when a hurricane warning is issued. If you can’t swim, you stay in the shallow end of the pool.

A traumatic event may occur when danger threatens serious injury or death in a situation in which the individual has little or no ability to protect themselves from witnessing or experiencing the event, or reversing the outcome of the event. Some traumatic events may be one-time events (people working in Lower Manhattan who witnessed the events on the morning of 9/11), while others may be recurrent (the child who is repeatedly molested by a parent or caregiver).

A recent study of adolescent trauma reported that over 61% of U.S. teens had been exposed to at least one potentially traumatic experience (PTE). 31% have experienced multiple PTEs, while 18.6% report experiencing three or more PTEs.

Kids who have been victims of trauma are among our most challenging to diagnose and treat. Fortunately, the majority of kids who experience a significant traumatic event demonstrate significant resiliency. Unfortunately, others may develop serious complications persisting for decades. On the surface, it may appear there’s little rhyme or reason to why individual kids react so differently to similar types of traumatic events and experiences. As we delve into this topic, readers will quickly appreciate that what we don’t know clearly exceeds what we know.

One challenge we face in teasing out the effects of trauma comes from the sheer variety of traumatic situations to which kids may be exposed. Research suggests the nature of the traumatic event has a profound effect upon the long-term outcome for the child. Let’s look at the different types of events known to produce the characteristic effects of trauma in kids…

  • Child abuse: physical, sexual, emotional
  • Violence: domestic, school-based, community-based
  • Traumatic loss: serious illness, death
  • Disruption in placement, living arrangements
  • Accidents: plane crashes, car accidents, athletic injuries, falls
  • Natural disasters: earthquakes, floods, storms, fires
  • War
  • Terrorism
  • Medical trauma: effects of repetitive, invasive medical treatments

In our next segment, we’ll look at specific factors that heighten the risk for PTEs to result in lasting negative effects. Here’s a preview-the highest risk is for kids with repeated exposure to interpersonal trauma involving physical or sexual violence.


Caring for KidsThe National Child Traumatic Stress Network has excellent resources for parents and professionals on topics related to traumatic stress in children and teens. Here’s a downloadable book…Caring For Kids: What Parents Need to Know About Sexual Abuse.

About Dr. G

Dr. Stephen Grcevich serves as President and Founder of Key Ministry, a non-profit organization providing free training, consultation, resources and support to help churches serve families of children with disabilities. Dr. Grcevich is a graduate of Northeastern Ohio Medical University (NEOMED), trained in General Psychiatry at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation and in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at University Hospitals of Cleveland/Case Western Reserve University. He is a faculty member in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at two medical schools, leads a group practice in suburban Cleveland (Family Center by the Falls), and continues to be involved in research evaluating the safety and effectiveness of medications prescribed to children for ADHD, anxiety and depression. He is a past recipient of the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Dr. Grcevich was recently recognized by Sharecare as one of the top ten online influencers in children’s mental health. His blog for Key Ministry, was ranked fourth among the top 100 children's ministry blogs in 2015 by Ministry to Children.
This entry was posted in Mental Health, PTSD, Resources and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The many types of childhood trauma

  1. Juls says:

    I would also add that both in utero and birth trauma can leave significant marks on a life. Two of my children experienced intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR) due to my autoimmune condition. They needed to be born early in order to prevent death. I am convinced that this too was a form of trauma. In fact, many adverse conditions can cause pre-birth trauma and should also be considered when evaluating a patient.

    Click to access 23-3-Janov.pdf

    Thanks for all the wonderful work you are doing! To God be the glory!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.